Route: Mt. Elbert (Northeast Ridge)
Bull Hill A (Northeast Ridge) from Elbert
Distance: 13 miles
Elevation Gain: 6,200'
Yesterday we took a break from the usual Class 3 ridge routes that we enjoy a lot, and headed up to Mt. Elbert to climb the standard route (Northeast Ridge) with some friends that were just getting started on the 14ers. We drove up early from Littleton and were on the trail at about 6 am. For the most part, the trail is pretty gradual through the trees. We made it to treeline at a good pace.
Near treeline, looking up the route
Above treeline, the trail stays gradual until below the first false summit, which is the highest point visible from the lower trail.
Mt. Massive from the trail
Looking back down the Northeast Ridge
Climbing the steep part below the first false summit
The climb up to the first false summit is definitely by far the most difficult section of this route, but we kept going and were soon at the top, where we saw what we thought was the summit, just a few minutes away, but it wasn't; in fact, there was even another false summit above that one! But the terrain is gentle, and it's not that far to the true summit.
False summit #2...
False summit #3...
And then the real summit!
Our group was split into two smaller groups, one faster and one slower, so while the faster group was waiting on the summit, two of us set out to climb Bull Hill, the closest 13er to Elbert, since I was still very eager to climb one. However, we had a time limit, and so we had to hike fast. We descended the Southwest Ridge, which is part of the Southeast Slopes route on this site, until we reached the Elbert-South Elbert saddle.
Climbing down the Southwest Ridge towards Bull Hill
There is a trail down this ridge, but for some reason we didn't see it and just took off down the ridge proper. The rock was loose in spots, and as we were hurrying along, I hit a big loose rock and fell hard face forward onto the rocks, which resulted in a nasty gash on my left arm and a slightly smaller one on my right hand. My left knee was hurting really bad as well. We were only 200' from Elbert's summit, and my first thought was to turn back. However, the pain in my knee subsided significantly, and we decided to keep going. We were a lot more careful after that, and still made it quickly down to the South Elbert saddle.
The Elbert-South Elbert saddle
We figured we might as well go left around the bump on the right side of the saddle (see photo above) instead of over it and traverse back to the ridge that descends to the Elbert-Bull Hill saddle, to save energy and hopefully gain some time. This worked out very well; the right side of the bump looked steep and loose to us. As we hiked around the bump we got a good view of the remaining route to Bull Hill.
Looking down at the route to Bull Hill
We regained the ridge on the right and found a trail that descends almost all the way to the saddle. After this point there is no trail that we could see.
Past the Elbert-Bull Hill saddle, looking back
The climb up Bull Hill is about 400' of elevation gain, and not too difficult. We got to the top in about 50 minutes from Elbert.
Looking up the final 200' to Bull Hill's summit
Climbing up the final pitch
Mt. Elbert, a long way back
From Bull Hill, you have to regain over 1000 feet to get back to Elbert's summit. We were already really tired from the constant rock-hopping and the heat of the sun. I was just about out of water and was starting to feel sick and dehydrated. We took off from Bull Hill's summit and took more time to get back to the lower saddle than we had hoped. We kept encouraging each other to keep going and even though we had a minimal water supply, we slogged back up to the South Elbert saddle.
Climbing back up
The final stretch to Elbert
The final climb to Elbert's summit was painful, but we forced ourselves up. Our total trip to Bull Hill and back to Elbert was about 2 hours and more than 4 miles. The rest of our group had summited 45 minutes before we got back, and everyone was eager to descend, so off we went, back down Elbert.
Almost to treeline
After we were past treeline, my stomach started hurting much more from dehydration, as I had run out of water near Elbert's summit. When we got back, I put down over a quart of water and felt much better. Next time we climb a 14er I'll bring much more water. But we still had a great time, although I think I won't climb Bull Hill again for a while.
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